Thinking about an Antarctic cruise? Deciding to book an adventure to the great white continent is a big one—and one that will change your life—but next comes the equally big decision of which cruise to book. With so many Antarctic cruise operators out there, it’s vital to do plenty of research as selecting the right ship can make all the difference when it comes to maximising your experience. To help, here are 10 questions to ask before booking an Antarctica cruise!
1. How many people will be on my Antarctic ship?
When it comes to booking an Antarctic cruise, passenger numbers make a huge difference! This is due to strict governing rules on Antarctic ships by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, or IAATO, put in place to protect the pristine Antarctic environment.
Ships with over 500 passengers are not permitted to make landings, which is why you often see voyages with larger Antarctic ships at lower prices. The trade-off for the lower fare is that your adventure will be cruise-only, without the opportunity to walk on land or explore in zodiacs.
For medium-sized ships, note that only 100 passengers per ship can be on shore at once. That means, for ships with several hundred passengers, the crew will need to alternate passenger groups and you may only have the chance to go on land once per day or once every other day. With time limits strictly in place for shore landings, this means you’re limited in your ability to explore Antarctica. Ships with under 200 passengers allow for the most opportunities to get off the ship and explore.
2. How many times will I get off the ship to explore Antarctica?
Before booking your trip, clarify how many times (weather permitting), you’ll be able to get off the ship and onto Antarctica itself. This is one of the top questions to ask before booking an Antarctica cruise as some ships don’t make landings at all, some only make a few, while others prioritise getting you off the ship as much as possible, so understanding how many landings you’ll make is essential.
If excursions like landings, zodiacs, or kayaking are important to you, look for a small ship with under 200 passengers, like the Ocean Endeavour, which aims to give every passenger two excursions per day, which can include zodiac trips led by an experienced expedition guide, shore landings and naturalist-led walks, or sea kayaking in a small group.
3. When should I travel to Antarctica?
The Antarctic season runs during the Southern Hemisphere summer months, generally November-March. Any time during the season will bring amazing opportunities to see icebergs, wildlife, and incredible views, but you can read more about when to visit Antarctica, month by month, here.
Most ships depart from South America (Ushuaia, Argentina or Punta Arenas, Chile), so you can also combine your cruise with a summertime adventure in Patagonia, Buenos Aires, or Santiago. However, some Antarctic ships depart from New Zealand.
If your schedule is flexible, but price is an issue, the beginning and the end of the season are often more affordable than the peak months of Dec-Feb.
4. What measures does my Antarctic cruise operator take to protect the environment?
To be sure your trip will put Antarctica’s well-being first, always book your cruise through a company that’s a member of IAATO. Members, like Chimu, are committed to preserving the environment, supporting scientific research, and financially supporting conservation programs on the continent.
Our favourite Antarctic ship, the Ocean Endeavour, protects the fragile ecosystem in many ways, including:
- Strict adherence to IAATO protocols, ensuring crew and guests keep a safe distance from wildlife and follow all biosecurity guidelines to prevent microfibers or bacteria from reaching the continent.
- Participation in citizen science programs and assisting wildlife charities and scientific organisations in their research.
- Passenger jackets, which are theirs to keep after the voyage, are made from fully recycled materials.
- Onboard presentations on wildlife, conservation, and science, helping passengers learn more and inspiring them to go home as ambassadors for Antarctica.
- All voyages are double carbon offset, at no additional cost to travellers.
5. Why is this cruise cheaper/more expensive than other cruises?
The cost for each Antarctic cruise will vary on a wide number of factors, including the trip duration, time of year, and the amenities included onboard. However, due to the region’s very remote location, the cost to build and maintain ice-strengthened vessels, and the costs of operation and polar permits means that a visit to Antarctica is at a higher cost than other holidays.
What impacts Antarctic cruise pricing?
There are many factors that determine pricing of a cruise, including its level of luxury facilities, the amount of times you can get off the ship, the expedition-to-crew ratio, and the number of activities offered.
However, paying a little bit more for a smaller ship is well worth the investment. Here’s why – take a ship with 500 passengers onboard, for example, which may be only slightly cheaper than less than 200 person cruise. On the 500 passenger ship, you’ll just have the chance to leave the ship and explore Antarctica once a day at most, for around 60-90 minutes. And if weather happens to be poor, you might miss your window altogether, which would be a huge disappointment to many. Why take the risk on your once-in-a-lifetime Antarctic expedition?
That’s why Chimu focuses on small ship expedition ships of under 200 passengers, as they allow you to maximise your opportunity to get off the ship, while still benefiting from our competitive pricing. The Ocean Endeavour plans for two excursions per day, ensuring everyone onboard has lots of time to discover and explore.
6. What is the expedition crew-to-passenger ratio onboard?
The expedition crew-to-passenger ratio makes a big difference in your Antarctic experience! With more expedition staff to lead excursions, travellers are able to enjoy more activities like kayaking, snowshoeing, hiking, or photography.
On the Ocean Endeavour, there is a 1:8 crew-to-passenger ratio, one of the highest in the industry, which means everyone onboard can participate in something amazing at each landing. With two landings scheduled per day, this means plenty of opportunity to make the most of each place visited.
7. How many zodiacs does the ship have?
Zodiacs are inflatable, motorised boats that transport guests off the ship to their activity or take them on a cruise around an Antarctic landing site. Zodiacs hold around 8-10 passengers and are driven by an experienced expedition guide who’ll also help you spot wildlife, tell you about the area’s history, or answer your questions.
The more zodiacs a ship has, the quicker they can move passengers off and on the ship. This means less waiting around and more opportunities to participate in excursions or go on zodiac cruises – considered a trip highlight by many travellers!
With 22 zodiacs, multiple loading ports, and a spacious mudroom for getting geared up, the Ocean Endeavour is a top choice for explorers looking to maximise their zodiac time.
8. How much fitness is required to partake in an Antarctica cruise?
Many travellers wonder about the level of fitness best suited for an Antarctic cruise, but you might be surprised that it’s not as much as you think. Travellers of all ages can experience Antarctica. Generally, it helps to have reasonable fitness, but landings usually don’t require you to walk long distances and you can always tailor your activities to match how you’re feeling that day.
However, everyone’s health is unique, so it’s best to talk to your doctor if you have any questions about Antarctica cruising. You can also speak to Chimu’s Destination Specialists, as they’ve travelled to Antarctica extensively and can answer your questions based on first-hand experience.
9. I’m a solo traveller – Is this cruise a good option for me?
It can be nerve-wracking to plan a trip on your own, but Antarctica is actually an amazing destination for solo travellers. Many ships, especially those with ample single cabins, are going to attract other single travellers, so you definitely won’t be alone!
On the Ocean Endeavour, there are many great opportunities to meet fellow like-minded travellers, including a welcome cocktail event, evening presentations, and morning tea. Everyone is so excited to be onboard and to be heading to Antarctica that you might be surprised at just how easy it is to strike up a conversation!
We can also help pair you up with a roommate of the same gender if you’re interesting in keeping costs down by avoiding any single supplements.
Also, you’ll be in the same mudroom muster groups throughout the voyage (the group of people who get off the ship together), which is an easy way to meet others and get to know new friends.
10. What’s included in the cost of an Antarctic cruise?
Each trip will be slightly different, but generally, the cost of an Antarctic cruise includes:
- Your cabin onboard
- All meals, including morning and afternoon tea. Some ships may include soft drinks or alcohol as well.
- Excursions or shore landings, weather permitting, as specified.
- Onboard activities like lectures from marine biologists, evening entertainment, or other special events.
- An experienced Antarctic expedition team to guide you onshore and in zodiacs.
Many ships offer optional activities at additional cost, such as ice camping, kayaking, or snowshoeing. Because optional activities are often limited in numbers, it’s helpful to book in your place at the same time as booking your cruise so that you don’t miss out.
A tip: We know it’s a big decision to decide on a cruise! So, when going through the questions, it helps to think about what your priorities are when visiting Antarctica—are you looking for an immersive experience with plenty of activities? Or maybe a luxury ship with fine dining? Once you know what’s most important to you, it becomes easier to find a ship to match your needs.
If you have any questions or just want to discuss ideas, our friendly team is always here to help. We can’t wait to help you find the perfect cruise for your ultimate Antarctic adventure!